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We’re New Here – Mary Elizabeth Remington

Itinerant Big Thief associate channels “the magic of nature”

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Itinerant Big Thief associate channels “the magic of nature”, in our MARCH 2023 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.

When Mary Elizabeth Remington was seeking a housemate while studying in Boston in 2010, she was excited to hear about “this really cool girl who played the guitar and went to Berklee”. That “cool girl” turned out to be future Big Thief Adrianne Lenker and the pair’s ongoing friendship informs Remington’s wonderful debut LP In Embudo.

It was recorded in the New Mexico hamlet that gives the album its name, with Remington’s husky voice and gospel melodies combining with Lenker’s rippling guitar, as well as contributions from Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia and multi-instrumentalist Mat Davidson of Twain. It’s intimate and warm, with shades of Nick Drake and a sense of the spiritual. “Recording was pretty chill, I have to say,” says Remington.

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“We were on the river, drinking delicious coffee, cigarettes in the sun, feet in the dirt and being with a group of people who were enjoying working together. I felt I was fulfilling my destiny. We were in a dreamland and could bask in these songs.”

Remington, “a closet singer since forever”, wrote the songs between 2008 and 2019, often composing by singing vocal melodies to herself while working solitary jobs in New Hampshire, Texas and California – her past careers include stone-carving and farming. Raised in a log cabin in rural Massachusetts, nature is an ever-present theme in her music, from the soaring “Fire”, inspired by West Coast wildfires, through to the Irish folk of “Water Song”, which opens with the sound of a rainstorm.

“It felt the elements were right there with us,” she marvels. “The night we did ‘Water Song’ was the only day it rained the whole time. I believe that nature has a voice and that is very much part of who I am. I grew up in the country, I feel connected to the earth, so if
in any way my songs can translate some of the magic of nature, that would be amazing.”

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Remington’s deep voice combines beautifully with Lenker on minimalist duets like “Dresser Hill”, while “Mary Mary” finds the pair breaking into giggles at a fluffed lyric. That highlights the delicate intimacy of the recording as well as the friendship between Remington and Lenker. “I love singing with Adrianne,” says Remington. “When she first moved in with me in Boston, we had a connection through singing. It felt amazing to be admired and to admire somebody else and be able to sing together. That feeling of making music with somebody, harmonising, it’s so magical. Adrianne told me I had to record my songs and she’s really helped me make this happen in a way that isn’t forceful. It’s very casual – she has left it up to me, so it’s my record and my songs.”

Remington now lives in the town of Ware on the Swift River in Massachusetts, where she works as a ceramic artist and teacher at a cultural centre. “These songs have always been a little secret thing, but I am already excited about getting my next record done,” she reveals. “They are all written from vocal melodies. It might start with a whistle, a melodic riff, then I find some words. With art, there’s a lot to give, but there is a lot to receive too. If I am depleted, the best prescription is a walk in the woods and you can sit under a tree in nonsensical awareness. There’s no other option for me.”

Mary Elizabeth Remington’s In Embudo is out February 10.

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